Hard summer training

Today is the end of a tough 3 weeks of training for me. Each week the hours I have trained has increased, and the volume of intervals which I’ve done has also increased. I’m pleased with how it’s gone but I was definitely in need of a rest day on the beach today!

A perfect rest day on the beach

A perfect rest day on the beach

Yesterday I did my first elkhuff (ski bounding with poles) intervals of the summer. They are one of my favourite sessions, but they are also one of the toughest! At the end of my session yesterday I was dripping with sweat and wasn’t sure what part of me was going to explode first – I had definitely been working hard! A patch of wild raspberries where I finished my intervals were a nice treat post intervals.

I’ve also been enjoying some of the long, gentle sessions that I’ve been doing. Last Sunday I did a 4.5hour run/hike with poles in the mountains nearby. I find that time flies by during long sessions like this when the scenery and terrain is constantly changing and the views are this good.

A view into the fjords from the top of my run

A view into the fjords from the top of my run

Some of the roads and cycle tracks around Stavanger have been resurfaced over the last couple of weeks, and are now perfectly smooth for rollerskiing. Unfortunately I did have an incident with a section of track which wasn’t fully finished – my rollerskis stopped and I continued going and landed flat on the tar. It was a bit of a slow motion crash and I only grazed my knees, but I ended up with a decent amount of tarry black sticky stuff over my arms and legs, which took a long time to get rid of in the shower (even with scrubbing pads intended for burnt pans!).

Taking high vis to a new level for rollerskiing!

Taking high vis to a new level for rollerskiing!

For the past few weeks I’ve been in the gym several times a week to do strength sessions. Up until the age of about 18 I couldn’t do any body weight pullups. The boys on our team used to do them so easily, and I made it my mission to be able to. I spent a lot of time using the weight assisted machines that you get in some gyms, and finally cracked it. I’ve been continuing to work on my upper body strength for the last few years as I think it is one of my weaknesses, and have been enjoying turning a few heads in the gym over the last few weeks when I’ve been adding over 10kg weight to my body weight for pullups and over 15kg for my tricep dips!

So things have been going well with training, I feel I’m making good progress and I’m really enjoying it all!

Enjoying exploring when my family came to stay

Enjoying exploring when my family came to stay

Sognefjell

So I’m just coming to the end of an easy week of training, which was very much needed after our British Team training camp in Sognefjell last week. Our camp is Sognefjell was great, and I’ve definitely been missing the sun, snow and skiing this week!

The view from the ski tracks in Sognefjell

The view from the ski tracks in Sognefjell

Our days in Sognefjell seemed to follow a very regular pattern: an early breakfast followed be a couple of hours skiing in the morning whilst the tracks were still nice and firm. On two mornings we did long level 3 (threshold) interval sessions and on two mornings we did speed (short sprint) sessions. After an early lunch (not early by Norwegian standards!) we had a bit of video feedback followed by an hour or so nap to recharge for an afternoon of technique work. After dinner we looked at video from the afternoon, and often watched a bit of the football World Cup, it’s just a shame England didn’t do so well!

The start of the ski tracks

The start of the ski tracks

There were two coaches and only four athletes on the training camp, which was ideal for getting lots of technique input and feedback. I’ve now got a long list of things to work on over the summer, but am also pleased with the progress I’m making.

Me and Posy during a speed session

Me and Posy during a speed session

I had a couple of eureka moments on the camp, where aspects of my skiing just seemed to come together and work, and feel totally natural all at the same time. It’s an amazing feeling to have, and it makes it feel like the hard work is paying off, but I do sometimes feel frustrated that these things hadn’t clicked sooner. Why hadn’t I learnt to do this last season?!

Sognefjell hytta where we stayed

Sognefjell hytta where we stayed

The skiing at Sognefjell is on a snow field at the top of a mountain pass. When the sun is out and the weather is nice, the conditions are incredible and you could ski all day in just shorts and tshirt. However when the weather is bad, and it’s windy or raining, it’s awful! Luckily we had lots of sun during our week, but I did manage to get sunburnt underneath my nose which was surprising sore.

My parents and sister have been to visit me this week, which has been really fun. We’ve been on several walks and adventures, and luckily the sunny weather has continued for them. Fingers crossed for some more for the next few weeks!

Me and my sister Heather at Preikestolen

Me and my sister Heather at Preikestolen

Exploring and orienteering

So I have now been in Norway for a month now, and I am really enjoying life here. The unseasonally good weather has definitely been helping, and I’ve been making the most of it whilst exploring new places to train.

Nice views whilst out running

Nice mountains close by to run in

And not a bad views either

And not a bad views either

I’ve spent a lot of time in Norway previously to train and race, but I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve been fully living and working with Norwegians. So I’ve been gradually learning new things about Norway and Norwegian people and their habits,

-         Norwegians like to eat lunch early. For me 10:30 am would be a late or second breakfast, but for many of the Norwegians I’ve met this is a normal time for lunch! I don’t think I’ll be changing to this!

-         Speed limits on the roads are unbelievably low. And the speeding fines are unbelievably high (not that I’ve found this out personally!)

-         There are zebra crossings everywhere, and a pedestrian or cyclist only has to look at one for cars to slam on their brakes. This does seriously disrupt traffic flow, but it is handy when out rollerskiing on cycle paths.

-         Pretty much every Norwegian can speak amazing English, and it makes me realise how lazy we are as a nation at learning languages well.

-         All Norwegians are active and love the outdoors, and people don’t think that you’re weird if you do a lot of sport.

One of the things that confirmed this last point to me was taking part in an orienteering series the last two Wednesday evenings. (Orienteering involves using a map and compass to navigate between a set number of check points, as quickly as possible – so you run inbetween). I’d never done any orienteering before, but since I do a lot of fell running I decided it would be fun to give it a go. I wasn’t sure if my navigation would be up to it, and I knew I would probably end up going for an approach along the lines of briefly looking at where I needed to go on my map and then just bombing it as fast as I could and hope I ended up in the right place. Despite my attempts not to, I did end up falling into this approach the first week, and it didn’t really work. I ended up running round in lots of circles and spending a lot of time not knowing where I was. But the second week I nailed it, and worked out the trick is to look at the map and work out where you need to go, remember things you will pass enroute and work out how you know you will have reached the point you’re aiming for. Then you can run.

Anyway, my reason for mentioning orienteering is that there were 650 people taking part in the weekly orienteering series, ranging from juniors to over 80s. I thought this was great, and really enjoyed being part of it!

So today marks the start of the first British Team training camp of the 2014-2015 season. I arrived in Sognefjell this morning and am looking forward to a week of skiing on snow on the snow field. Fingers crossed for plenty more sun and blue skies!

Sognefjell - sun and snow

Sognefjell – sun and snow

Spring and the start of a new training year

Since my last blog, spring has been and gone, and summer is now here.

Like the majority of cross country skiers I took April as a rest month, to recover from a long busy season and to refuel for next season. The rest was definitely needed, but I do really miss training! I did do some bits of running and climbing, so the withdrawal symptoms weren’t too bad! It was nice to spend some time catching up with my family and to see lots of friends back home.

 

Catching up with my friends Hannah and Lauren in London

Catching up with my friends Hannah and Lauren in London

During April I did a geotechnical engineering placement in London, with a company called Geotechnical Consultancy Group. I’m just coming to the end of a year out inbetween my third and final year at university, so it was nice to get some practical experience with a very knowledgeable and respected company. I learnt a lot and had a lot of fun.

Mo Farah running in the London Marathon. It was fun to watch and cheer!

The London Marathon was on whilst I was in London. It was to watch and cheer for Mo Farah!

With the start of May came the start of the 2014-2015 training year. It’s been fun to get back into training again, and I’ve been doing a mixture of running, biking, rollerskiing and strength work in the gym. It always takes a while to get back into training, so I’ve had several mornings (normally after strength training) when I’ve woken up quite sore and have spent the day walking slightly strangely!

Nice countryside to be back training in at home

Nice countryside to be back training in at home

A week ago I came out to Stavanger, where I will be for 12 weeks this summer. I’m doing another geotechnical engineering placement, this time with the offshore company Subsea7. I am looking forward to learning a lot through it, as well as enjoying a summer training in Norway, close to the mountains, sea and fjords.

So far I’ve found some great places to rollerski and some really nice mountains to run in.

A nice beach I've rollerskied past

A nice beach I’ve rollerskied past

Today I did the 7-nuts (7-tops) fell race just outside Stavanger, which over 200 people took part in. This was the first race I’ve done since the end of the skiing season, and it was tough! It was really fun to be out racing in the mountains again, and the weather and the views were amazing.

The view of the final top from the car park. The views were amazing from the tops, but my camera didn't leave the car park.

The view of the final top from the car park. The views were amazing from the tops, but my camera didn’t leave the car park.

Me post race

Me post race

The race was 14km, with 900m of ascent. It took a fair bit longer than I expected as the terrain was really tough, with some very rocky descents and some scrambles up and down. Despite running out of energy a few km too early, I came 2nd women, which I’m pretty pleased with!

Covered in a combination of sweat, blood, mud and cow poo

Covered in a combination of sweat, blood, mud and cow poo

Having had a good first couple of weeks of training, I’m excited for the rest of summer, and am hoping for lots of sunny days to enjoy the mountains.

Season Review

So the 2013-2104 season has come to an end. I love training and racing, so I always find it sad when the season finishes, and it becomes 7-8 months until I will be racing again. However, it’s also nice to have a break and relax as it’s been a long, hard season.

With coaches we always have a look back on the season, to make sure next season is better, so I thought I’d do a little season review blog too. I’ve put some of my favourite photos in too. Sorry, some of them have already been in my blog already this winter!

Best race of the season

It’s got to be between two:

5km classic time trial at the Swiss Champs. It is an amazing feeling to have a race where everything seems to come together and go perfectly. I felt strong, I felt relaxed and I had really good skis. This resulted in me coming 2nd, and also scoring my best points to date. It’s impossible not to be happy standing on a podium!

Swiss national champs podium

Swiss national champs podium

10km classic mass start at the Continental Cup in St Ulrich, Austria. I’ve raced in St Ulrich several times before, and this was definitely the best. I managed to avoid any trouble in the mass start, and felt really strong. I spent the entire race skiing with people ranked much higher than me, and wasn’t out of place. It was also fun to have my parents and my sister there cheering!

Skiing with a French and German in the classic mass start in St Ulrich

Skiing with a French and German in the classic mass start in St Ulrich

Worst race

Saalfelden, Austria. Although I felt amazing skiing, I would definitely class this as my worst race of the season as I fell over. The vast majority of cross country skiers do fall from time to time whilst racing, especially when you’re really pushing yourself, and when the conditions aren’t ideal. Although I don’t fall that often, I find dealing with it hard, as it leaves me questioning what could the outcome have been if I’d actually managed to stay on my feet. Especially in a race like this when I felt really strong.

Most amazing experience

Racing in the World Cup in Holmenkollen, Oslo. The track was lined with tens of thousands of people, and there were hundreds of people cheering my name (but not my Dad, who was there watching, as he’d already lost his voice!). After 30km I was exhausted, but I didn’t realise quite how much until I stopped, as the crowds seemed to help me not notice it!

Lots of spectators lining the course

Lots of spectators lining the course

Low point

Not qualifying for the Olympics, but getting so so close. I knew it was going to be hard to qualify, and that I was going to have to ski better than I ever had before, but I really believed I could do it. It was so frustrating to get to within seconds of qualifying, and I have to admit I’ve spent a lot of time lying awake in bed since wondering where I could have got those extra seconds.

Improvement I’m most pleased with

Classic skiing has always been my strong point, but this season I’ve had by far my best skate races ever. I’ve been working hard on my balance, knee stability and body position, and really feel it’s paid off. My skate skiing still isn’t as consistent as I’d like it to be, but after several really strong skate races this season I know I can do it!

Thing I wish I could change

(Apart from the obvious… qualifying for the olympics)

In the days building up to races, during my warm ups and during the races I tried not to think about Olympic qualification, and think I was good at not focusing on it, and I didn’t really worry about it or let it get to me. I just knew I had to focus on my racing, and go out and ski as fast as I could. However, after the races, I kept just comparing my results to the qualification standard, and was really critical of myself. As a result, I ended up not enjoying some really strong results at the start of the season, and looking back I really should have done.

Funniest moment

I think it has to be opening presents on Christmas day morning. Due to most of the team (including me) being very last minute, and the boys having an interesting sense of imagination with presents, there were some very unusual and funny presents (and wrapping techniques) on show on Christmas day morning.

Focus for next season

My main focus for next season is the World Championships in Falun, Sweden.

Where I’d recommend to go and ski

My favourite place that I’ve trained and raced this season, and would recommend people to go and cross country ski, is Toblach, Italy. The Dolomite mountains are stunning, and there are so many nice tracks to ski on.

Me and Annika training

Me and Annika training

I just want to end this blog by saying thank you to everyone who has supported me this season. There are so many volunteers, coaches, wax technicians, physios, donors and sponsors… that do an amazing job making the British Cross Country Ski team run, but don’t often receive as much acknowledgement as they deserve. Thank you for all your hard work!

Doing some video technique work with Thomas

Doing some video technique work with Thomas

Also thank you so much to all my friends and family for all your support too, I really appreciate it, and I know I wouldn’t have been able to ski as fast and have as much fun without you!

Lillehammer

Over the last couple of years I’ve spent a lot of time in Lillehammer, Norway. It’s the capital for cross country skiers in Norway, and is an amazing place to live and train. After the 30km in Holmenkollen, I headed to Lillehammer to rest and recover, and prepare for the Birkebeiner, a 54km ski marathon, which was due to take place a week later.

The Birkebeiner is one of the biggest and most famous cross country ski races in the world. In 1206, during the Norwegian civil war, the 18 month old prince Haakon Haakonsson was carried across the mountains by skiers to avoid a certain death. The prince became King and united Norway after 1000 years of civil war.  Every year 17000 people take part in the Birkebeiner ski race, which follows this route over the mountains between Rena and Lillehammer. All racers are required to carry a rucksack weighing at least 3.5kg, their own “Birkebeiner baby”!

I was really excited about racing the Birkebeiner. Having raced it 3 years ago I knew that the atmosphere would be amazing, and having learnt a lot about racing since then I knew I would do a lot better (I ran out of energy about 10km before the finish last time as I didn’t eat enough during the race!).

Pre race preparation of the Birkebeiner race tracks on Friday

Pre race preparation of the Birkebeiner race tracks on Friday

Unfortunately whilst I was at the start warming up for the race, it was announced that this years Birkebeiner was cancelled, due to high winds on the top of the mountains. I was gutted! I was so excited about racing.

Although the highlight of my week in Lillehammer was cancelled, I still had a really good time there. There were perfect spring skiing conditions pretty much every day – warm and sunny, but plenty of snow, so the tracks were still in amazing condition. Every time I went out skiing I just wanted to carry on skiing forever!

Perfect skiing conditions above Rena

Perfect skiing conditions above Rena

Me, happy to be out skiing

Me, happy to be out skiing

Simon out on a ski in the sun

Simon out on a ski in the sun

Ski tracks as wide as motorways!

Ski tracks as wide as motorways!

Sunday was my last day of skiing for the 2013-2014 season, and I flew home on Monday. I can’t believe how quickly it has gone! I’m sad that the season is over, but I know next season will be round quickly!

Oslo from the aeroplane (I even managed to spot Holmenkollen!)

Oslo from the aeroplane (I even managed to spot Holmenkollen!)

I definately needed a trolley!

Two ski bags, a big holdall bag and a rucksack I can fit in – I definately needed a trolley!

Norwegian World Cups

In the last week I have races two world cups in Norway, and both have been amazing experiences!

The first of these was a classic city sprint in Drammen on Wednesday. I hadn’t been planning racing, however since I was in Drammen I found it hard to resist, so did so.

The view up to the track in the centre of Drammen

The view up to the track in the centre of Drammen

The race track was constructed out of snow which had been trucked into the city centre, and went up the main high street. Bars were full around the course, and people were hanging out of the apartment windows overlooking the track to get a better view. So it was an amazing atmosphere to race in. It was probably my best sprint of the season, and due to the crowds it was definitely the most fun. A great way to spend my 24th birthday!

Andrew racing in prologue in Drammen

Andrew racing in prologue in Drammen

The second of my two Norwegian World Cup races this week was the 30km classic in Holmenkollen, Oslo (I had been planning on doing this one!)

Holmenkollen sits at the top of a hill over looking Oslo, so there were amazing views from the race tracks, although for the first two days we were there you could only see 50m due to the thick fog. I got lost several times!

Looking down at the ski jump crowds

Looking down at the ski jump crowds

The start of the mens 50km race in Holmenkollen

The start of the mens 50km race in Holmenkollen

On Sunday I raced my first ever 30km race, a classic mass start, and I’m not going to lie, it was the hardest ski race I’ve ever done. The race tracks were really tough, the hills seemed to go on forever!

Me during the 30km race in Holmenkollen

Me during the 30km race in Holmenkollen

Another race photo taken by my Dad

Another race photo taken by my Dad

Tens of thousands of people lined the race tracks, including hundreds camped out in the woods, having bbqs and downing beers whilst cheering. It was amazing hearing hundreds of people cheering my name, despite only knowing two people in the crowd – my dad and my friend Lowri, who happened to be in Oslo visiting her boyfriend for the weekend. They definitely gave me an extra bit of energy!

Lots of spectators lining the course

Lots of spectators lining the course

I came 50th, taking a few seconds short of 1h40 to ski the 30km. I was pleased with how I skied, I gave it everything but felt I skied sensibly and tried to be relaxed. I did tire quite a lot by the end, but the crowds took my mind off the pain! I was some way behind the winner Marit Bjoergen, who totally dominated the race, winning by 1min42 over second, but as my dad said to me, she’s 10 years older than me so I’ve got plenty of time!